3 questions the Bills must answer to beat Philadelphia
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • October 06, 2011 @ 7:20am
Let’s throw records out the window for a moment. With stars like Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Peters, the Philadelphia Eagles should be among the NFL’s elite. The defense, while still remarkably thin at linebacker, boasts the best cornerback trio on the planet in Nnamdi Asomugha (despite a woeful (-5.8) in coverage this year so far), Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, along with all-world end Trent Cole. So, why again is the supposed “Dream Team” 1-3?
It’s a little silly to give simple answers for complex questions, but turnover margin plays a key role. Philadelphia is tied for 31st in the NFL with a (-6); five interceptions and five fumbles have stalled many an offensive series, while the defense hasn’t bailed out the offense with takeaways of its own. The Bills are (+7) in turnover margin, tied for second in the league. If there’s one stat that can explain success and failure, it’s turnovers.
(Buffalo Rumblings’ Brian Galliford points to red zone production as another major issue confronting the Eagles, who’ve punched only eight of 21 opportunities in the the end zone.)
To use a terribly inappropriate metaphor, the Eagles are limping into Buffalo like a wounded dog—high expectations and low results can have that effect. Philadelphia is down and dangerous, and the Bills must prepare as if they’re facing a 4-0 team.
Kickoff is at 1 p.m., and the game will air on FOX instead of CBS. The over/under is 50, so a shootout is expected. Strangely, the Eagles are 2.5 point favorites despite their dismal record and the Bills’ perch atop the AFC East (well, shared with the Pats, but we hold the head-to-head tiebreaker!).
— Can the Bills stop Michael Vick, the superstar who had interest in signing with Buffalo? Even though the elusive #7 tends to get hurt in every single game (concussion, hand contusion), he posted a nasty stat-line against the 49ers—30-46 passing for 416 yards, two TDs and one INT. He also ran for 75 yards on eight carries. If there’s one weakness in Vick’s game, it’s still blitz recognition, and if he’s oblivious to pass rushers, he’ll fumble (he put six balls on the ground in Week 2 and 3 combined). Will Buffalo use a spy to keep Vick from breaking contain? That’s a difficult choice when Vick’s become more accurate over the last two years.
— Can Buffalo take advantage of Philadelphia’s injuries on both lines? Right defensive end Trent Cole and left offensive tackle Jason Peters—two stars playing exceptionally important positions—won’t suit up at Ralph Wilson Stadium. King Dunlap, a better run blocker than pass blocker in 417 snaps last year, will fill in for Peters, while Jason Babin (the NFL’s sack leader with 7.0) swings over to right defensive end. Darryl Tapp, whose career-high is seven sacks, steps into the starting lineup on defense. The Eagles’ 2011 first round pick, Danny Watkins, replaces Kyle DeVan at offensive guard. With two new starters, will Philadelphia’s o-line become a trainwreck?
The Bills’ second-string left tackle Chris Hairston, a rookie, will have his hands full against Babin in his first NFL start, while Shawne Merriman, hypothetically at least, should be able to play off Watkins’ inexperience and unnerve Vick throughout the game.
— Will a leader emerge from the Bills’ secondary? Although Buffalo’s run defense is still suspect, it ranks 25th against the pass, largely because of injuries to Terrence McGee and Aaron Williams combined with facing potent offenses. Williams is still out with a collarbone ailment, but McGee has returned to practice this week. Bills fans will certainly prefer to see McGee in the lineup over Leodis McKelvin, who’s conceded 20.4 yards per reception (“good” for fifth-highest in the league) and missed four tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. The electric Jackson/Maclin duo will be the Bills’ toughest test yet, probably even tougher than the Gronkowski/Welker tandem because the Eagles can stretch the field even more.
By the way, here’s a really amusing line from the NFL.com article that discusses how Tyler Thigpen has taken on the “Michael Vick” imposter role for the Bills’ scout team.
“Did we mention we’re bummed there’s no dude cruising West Chippewa Street telling the ladies of Buffalo he’s the reigning NFL Comeback Player of the Year? Really disappointing.” I’ve tried that—it doesn’t work.
And for heaven’s sakes, give Brad Smith the ball!